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Air Force junior full back Brad Roberts (20) carries the ball in for a touchdown as Florida Atlantic safety Jordan Helm (35) clings on during Air Force football home game against the Florida Atlantic Owls at Falcon Stadium on the campus of the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., on Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021. (Chancey Bush/ The Gazette)

Areas of intrigue we'll track as Air Force (8-3, 5-2 Mountain West) hosts UNLV (2-9, 2-5) at 1:30 p.m. Friday at Falcon Stadium on CBS Sports Network and 740 AM KVOR.

Brad Roberts’ yardage

Air Force junior fullback Brad Roberts rammed into the top 10 in single-season rushing yards in program history last week. He sits in the No. 10 spot with 1,177 yards. If Air Force plays two more games, Roberts would need to average 159 yards in those games to pass Beau Morgan (1,494 yards in 1996) atop the Falcons’ all-time list. With an additional game if the team advances to the Mountain West title game, Roberts would need to average 106 yards (he has averaged 107 so far this year). Roberts can also capture the Mountain West rushing title this week, as he is facing his closest competitor — UNLV’s Charles Williams, 1,124 yards. Wyoming’s Xazavian Valladay (942) is the only other runner in the conference within 280 yards of Roberts.

UNLV’s quarterback situation

Quarterback injuries can often produce the biggest changes for teams, and the results aren’t always for the worse (remember Arion Worthman’s ascension for Air Force in 2016 or, you know, anything about Tom Brady?). UNLV might be in the midst of such a change. When starter Cameron Friel was hurt last week against San Diego State, Justin Rogers came in and threw for 305 yards and two touchdowns against a stout Aztecs defense. Rogers was once a touted recruit with offers from Georgia, LSU and Texas, and he transferred to UNLV from TCU. If he goes again this week, which is not a certainty, the Falcons may find themselves in the inevitable position of facing a somewhat unknown talent leading a team with nothing to lose.

Air Force’s ability to protect the ball

Perhaps the most telling sign that a change of fortunes is on the horizon for UNLV is its improvement playing clean football. The Rebels are second only to Air Force in the Mountain West in penalties (40.5 yards per game compared to Air Force’s 38.2). They are also fourth in the conference in time of possession at 30:35 (Air Force, with 36:18, leads that category by about 5 minutes). The Rebels are best in red zone defense, second in field goal accuracy and fifth in rushing defense. The Falcons won’t be able to power through this matchup on autopilot because of UNLV’s ability to match areas that are typically Air Force strengths. If Air Force can’t clean up its turnover issues — six in the past four games at is has gone 2-2 — this could get way more interesting than the Falcons would like.

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